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Stage Manager Stories: Cherie B. Tay, A STRANGE LOOP

Cherie's additional Broadway credits include Hadestown, Slave Play, Gettin' The Band Back Together, Amélie, Doctor Zhivago, Bring It On and more.

A Strange Loop

Need a cue? Call a stage manager. Need a line? Call a stage manager. Need a day off? Call a stage manager. Need a call time, a schedule, an inspection, a to-do list, a floor plan, a script, or just a pep talk? Call a stage manager!

When it comes to the hardworking folks behind the scenes of your favorite shows, perhaps no one works harder than the stage manager. Acting as the liason from the crew to the creatives and from the creatives to the company, the title "stage manager" is an umbrella term for the numerous roles these individuals play that bring order to the chaos of putting up a production.

Each month, BroadwayWorld is spotlighting stage managers from across the theatrical spectrum, shedding a much-deserved light on the breadth of responsibilities these theatrical jacks-of-all-trades take on and the heart, hope, and humor they bring to their work as Broadway returns from its lengthy shutdown.

This month, we're chatting with veteran Broadway stage manager, voice actor, and multimedia creative artist, Cherie B. Tay (she/they), who is currently part of the stage management team of this year's most Tony-nominated musical, A Strange Loop.

We reached out to Cherie after they posted a series of tweets detailing their decision to leave the theatre industry. In winter 2021, the high-stress of Covid-19, paired with the Broadway shutdown and the anxiety of anti-Asian crime in New York had led to mental health struggles, leaving the Singapore-raised artist feeling depleted. Having had some success in voice over acting, Cherie had planned to begin pursuing that path full-time, when a flood of offers came in to return to the role of stage manager. Learn more about how Cherie rediscovered their joy for show business and found a way back to backstage in excerpts from our conversation below.

With over a decade of professional experience, Cherie's additional Broadway credits include Hadestown, Slave Play, Ruben and Clay's Christmas Show, Gettin' The Band Back Together, Amélie, Doctor Zhivago, Bring It On and the national tours of In The Heights and War Horse. Cherie has also taken her skills to the international stage, working on productions in Seoul, Tokyo, Arezzo, Paris, and Canada, as well as all across the United States. They have also worked on numerous corporate events, galas, award shows, and has subbed at the New York City Ballet.

Cherie has been featured on Stage Management panels for Actors Equity Association, Broadway Stage Management Symposium, USITT, Open Stage Project, LA Dance Project, and Year Of The Stage Manager 2020-21.

Cherie has also music assisted on Broadway shows and workshops including Bring It On, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Doctor Zhivago, Bronx Tale, and SuperFly.

As a photographer, their work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Vulture, Forbes, and more. They have also been a guest teacher/panelist with Columbia, Yale, UC Irvine, Ithaca, SUNY Purchase, Pacific Lutheran University, and Weber State University.

In addition to stage managing, voice acting and photography, Cherie is a videographer and ukulele teacher (Margaritaville National Tour).

So, the reason I wanted to chat with you as part of this series is because I was moved by your story and I felt like there were so many aspects of it that could be illuminating or useful for others, the first one being your plan to leave the industry. This is something that happens all the time and considered by every theatre person at one point or another, particularly now, but is rarely discussed. I've certainly attempted it. This is an insanely challenging business but there seems to be a real stigma around what is perceived as giving up one's passion. Where did this idea originate for you and how did you make that choice?

I think it was starting from the beginning of the pandemic and just having our lives ripped away from us and something that we've done for so long just all of a sudden, one day go away. Most artists are multi creative and multi talented, so we all found other things to do, but in those two years, we never really got to mourn what we lost and collectively grieve the life that we could have been living. So even though we did find other things to do, it was, it was just this rug that was just pulled out from under us. So that, plus going back and doing theater where it seems like everything wanted to change, but nothing changes overnight.

So as much as we wanted to move forward in the world with Me Too and Black Lives Matter and lifting up others, we can't fix things fast enough because that's how the world works. Nothing is ever gonna be fixed overnight. For me, the height of it was during the fall, when I was working on Slave Play on Broadway as the PSM [Production Stage Manager], and we were dealing with Omicron. And so here we were again, the third wave of COVID. We had COVID 1 and then we had something else, I think, and then Delta and then Omicon. We were worried about Delta, but nothing happened really. Then Omicron started shutting shows down left and right again, and it just gave this trauma trigger of going back to the beginning of the pandemic. Shows were posting by the minute as they were shutting down, as audiences were in the theater, they were calling the shows off.

So, the stress of that, with the stress for me as a stage manager, making sure my company feels safe and making sure my company feels heard and comfortable and taken care of... trying to juggle all that, trying to keep your show family safe and healthy is a lot to take on during this crazy time.

So, what was the plan for life after Broadway?

Well, I had always wanted to do Broadway since I was a kid. I grew up on an island in Singapore where I watched the international Broadway Australian tours. Those would come by and I realized that I wanted to do Broadway. During the shutdown, when we were kind of just loose boats on the ocean, I got into voiceover thanks to André De Shields, Amber Gray, and Kimberly Marable on Hadesdown. So I started doing that before the shutdown. The shutdown happened, and I had my home studio, I got an agent, and then just started doing voiceovers. Now, now within like three years, I've done all sorts of voiceover for promo trailers, narration, politicals, animation...I've done a lot of genres and I love it. I love working from home. I love using my voice. I really enjoy it.

With all of that in mind, how did you come to the decision to stick it out in the theatre? How did you rediscover your joy for the the work in the face of such a stressful time?

In talking with a friend, trying to rediscover what it was that I loved about it and find the original love for it. Seeking mental health counseling. I also work with Open Stage Project and I teach at a university. When I was doing Hadestown every Wednesday between shows I would leave for half an hour to talk to a young up and coming stage manager. It's so empowering to hear their stories and know that this is something that inspires the next generation. Then I got many offers for shows this spring thanks to people who recommended me. In the end I was like, I do love this. I do wanna help take this show [A Strange Loop] to the next level, and create and tell stories that have never been told on Broadway and keep ushering the next generation of Broadway artists along.

I do wanna add that I know a lot of theatre artists who have left theatre, and also a lot of stage managers who have also left the industry. And I think that's great because we do need stage managers everywhere, and they're really great at their jobs. I think leaving theater doesn't make you a failure or less of a theatre person.

Absolutely. You also mentioned in your tweet that the recent wave of anti-AAPI hate had left you feeling unsafe in the city. How have you found a way to cope with that each day?

I feel like we all feel like the MTA is definitely more unsafe and maybe that's just a feeling, I don't know. I don't have facts to back it up. But having people text you the day of the Brooklyn shooting and then hearing about people being murdered in their own apartment is, you know...[trails off] They want you to take your headphones out, but then you have to hear people screaming at you on the subway. I carry items for my own safety. So you just have to kind of find ways of just making yourself feel a little bit safer.

In light of this, is there anything you feel like our neighbors should know in order to be more effective allies and/or protectors?

Yeah. I actually don't like hearing about the news stories that happen, or seeing videos of it. I just always scroll away. I don't need to see that on my page. Any videos of trauma, nobody wants to see. Walking home with a friend, checking in with a friend. I've sent resources for bystander awareness. There are resources for safety items for Asian-American women out there as well. So find some resources, share them, and take a bystander class because honestly it's not just for anti-Asian crime. I've used it in situations where I've like seen a guy who's trying to talk to a woman on the train and clearly she doesn't want to talk to him and I'll be like, "Oh my God, Christina! Hi! I haven't seen you since college!" And then just pull her aside and diffuse the situation, you know? It's useful in so many ways.

So what has your experience been like working on A Strange Loop so far? The show is revolutionary in its content as well as the makeup of its cast and crew, who are primarily queer and/or people of color. How has this been a unique working experience for you?

I think before Hadestown, actually, I haven't had this many creatives and crew and, and management who were and people of color. It just was not a thing. I remember I would walk into a reading and then it would be me and then one other person of color. We would just make eyes at each other, do our hello greeting, and then smile and do the workshop. So being a part of something where so many more people are represented, it doesn't seem big, but it feels big if. You definitely see the difference and feel the difference.

What is your favorite thing about being a stage manager?

That's a good question. The people. It's the people, and the show, but it's the people. The people who make the show backstage, the people you work with every day, the people you greet at the stage door, the people you see out in the house, the bar folks, the COVID safety folks, your house heads, your crew, your cast, your wardrobe department- these are all people who love theatre and are there because they love theatre and knowing that you were all coming together to support the show...there's something about this family of making a show together. You know, I hate when corporations use the word 'family' [laughs] but there are definitely things that I would do for people I work with that I wouldn't do for any stranger off the street. You know, having dinner together is such a small thing, or having a supply for this one actor who needs it, or going the extra mile to do something for someone else or having a cookie show up on your desk. It's just the little things of making everyone else's day brighter while also doing a show that that is magic both to the audience and, and to the people behind the scenes.

Learn more about Cherie here!

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